Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Springtime Walks

Now that the dogs aren't running in harness they need to stretch their legs and keep fit in other ways so we take them out free running! The other day we took Chica, Sissy, Scooter, Tig and Spicy out into the fields.

They enjoy the warm weather but need to cool themselves down so the all channelled their inner labrador when we came upon the puddles.

There is still some snow lying around, particularly the berms (making it difficult for the water to drain away) and some of the sled trails. Here's a pic of our exit trail - because probably 99% of our runs used this part of the trail it is very hard packed and is taking longer to melt than everything else.

Everyone will get to do lots of free walking and running this summer - watch this space for updates throughout the off-season.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Springtime at SP Kennel

Springtime at the kennel brings warm temperatures and sunny skies. It also brings the melt! Nearby fields and lower lying parts of the kennel disappear under a few inches of water as we wait for both the ground the river to thaw to take all the water away. The road out of the kennel is a little treacherous but at least the underside of the truck gets a good clean each time!

the field outside the kennel, the road out

We utilise the dog barn and higher pens for those dogs that are getting soggy feet. Mud is the order of the day so we've replaced our warm insulated boots for rubber boots and our warm pants and jackets for waterproof bibs and T-shirts. It won't take long for the water to drain away but in the meantime everything looks a little brown.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Fire Puppies In Harness!

It's that time of year when the puppies learn what it is to be in harness to give them a taste of what they are destined to do! It's always a race against time to get some training runs in before the snow melts.

We ran the the Fire pups in groups of three with some adults in front leading the way including Mamma Olivia and Pappa Nacho, Schmoe, Boondocks, Pepe, Quito, Chemo and Pud. We stopped frequently to give them lots of positive encouragement and praise and to (hopefully) teach them to face forward when stopped. We did that by walking right past them then turning and praising them when we were standing in front of them.

The first group in harness was Hotshot, Coal and Amber. HOTSHOT was a "hotshot" and knew exactly what to do, you could not tell this was his first time in harness. COAL was a little hesitant at first and you could almost read his thoughts: "Woah, this is weird, what's going on… hang on… not too sure… wait, wow, THIS IS AWESOME!!!!!!!!! WOOHOO!!!!!" and from that moment there was no turning back! AMBER settled in to a smooth, steady lope early and has a compact, efficient form like her mama.

Next up was Tinder, Torch and Daisy. DAISY looked a bit like a dolphin as she took huge leaps and bounds in the snow. TORCH got right down to business, which is true to his character - somewhat serious and no nonsense. TINDER pulled hard and looked just like a real sled dog. He is big and strong and looks remarkably like his Papa.

Next we took Commando, Spark and Violet. COMMANDO looked supremely confident which is unlike him. In the yard he is somewhat reserved, even a little shy but in harness he was like a different dog. SPARK was fun, he seemed to enjoy himself very much but then he always seems to enjoy himself! He's inherited his father's happy-go-lucky personality. VIOLET looked gorgeous bounding and loping along the trail. She is very vocal, like her older sister Junior and she was "woo woo" talking all the way around.

The final group had Chena and Nomex. CHENA was very vocal and gave little "yips" of joy as they ran their two mile route. NOMEX looked strong and focussed on the trail ahead, he was particularly well behaved when the team was stopped.

We didn't managed to capture any footage, there is a lot to do when running puppies and we each have only one pair of hands. Instead I have some updated pictures of the pups in the yard so you can see how much they have grown.

Amber and Chena

Coal and Commando

Daisy and Hotshot

Nomex (with Spark photobomb) and Spark

Tinder and Torch

Violet (that's mud on her face, not freckles!) and - just for fun - here they are six months ago

Every year we say it but it is so fun to see the pups instinctively know what to do. Like a labrador retrieves a stick or a cattle dog rounds up cattle, a husky runs and pulls.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Cayenne and Champ Growing Up

Remember these two kids from the beginning of the season?

L-R: Cayenne and Champ

Well, they've grown! They are young dogs now, rather than little puppies and they are learning the kennel routines, good manners and shortly will learn to what it is to run in harness. In the meantime, they have been having fun running in the field with various adult dogs.

The other evening I took the camera with me when we went out with Tig the Labrador - as you can see, Cayenne LOVES Tig and Tig… well… she's very patient.

I chose this piece of music more for it's title: Dolce Vita (by Apple Inc). I think it is very appropriate!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

North Slope

We just returned from a fantastic few days up on the North Slope! We had gorgeous weather and spectacular views in every direction. Our campsite was just below a ridge we could climb that afforded us a vista that went for miles and miles.

We took small teams out on short excursions during the day and were able to collect water from the river that was just starting to melt and saw wildlife including caribou, moose and ptarmigan. It would be fair to say our timetable was "relaxed" as we didn't HAVE to be anywhere at any particular time. A wonderful end to the season.

What can be better than this?

Quito at home amongst the spectacular scenery

Willie, Rambler and Boondocks enjoying some free time together

Saturday, April 12, 2014

End Of Season Trip

The four of us along with 24 canine companions are packing up ready to head to the North Slope area, about 400 miles north of the kennel.

This will be the "last hurrah" for us for this season and we're excited to get out there in the arctic wilderness for a fun and relaxing trip before we head our separate ways for the summer (or in Moira's case: winter). We wish we could take the whole yard with us!

L-R: practice tent set-up; packing for the trip

You won't hear from us until later this week - we'll be sure to post some pictures once we are back.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Letters from Students

Many schools around the country use the Iditarod as a learning tool and include various aspects of the race in their syllabus'. Sometimes, part of their teaching includes the students writing a letter to their chosen musher and this year we received hundreds of letters from students all over the US.

We always enjoy receiving them along with pictures the students have drawn, handmade cards and other fun enclosures. It is not only fun but also funny at times when there are some "kids say the darndest things" moments like the one student who suggested Aliy bring her "A game" next time.

We reply to each one with information about the race, the kennel and dogs and try to answer all their questions. We also send a dog trading card so they can get to know one of the dogs a little more personally. It's a fun time of year! And who knows, maybe one day some of those students will run the race and be replying to letters themselves!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

ID: Finishers' Banquet and Prize Giving (Video)

I know this is a few weeks old by now, sorry for the delay. I wanted to give you some "snippets" from the prize giving but the stories were just too good to edit! Therefore, this video is quite long so I suggest getting a cuppa, put your feet up and enjoy.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

ID: Black Team Wrap-Up

I sat down the Allen to hear a wrap-up of the Black Team's Iditarod. Overall he thought they were a great team, he enjoyed running with them and was proud of what they achieved. Allen had hoped he could have pushed a little harder to give the youngsters the idea but with the trail conditions as they were he found when he did he could tell it was getting a little hard on them so he backed off a bit. He wanted the race to be a fun and pleasant experience for them and he thinks he accomplished all those goals. Hopefully next year some of them will be in the number one team.

The Black Team runs up Front Street towards the finish line. Photo by Tom V. Jamgochian of Nome, used with permission

BEEMER - He started out in the middle of the team. Coming off the Quest he was a little dreary however with the more conservative run/rest schedule in the Black Team he started to shine more as the race went on. Eventually he got put up into the leaders spot for the last 300-400 miles and he did an exceptional job. It was nice to see him back to his best.

DINGLE - He started out in lead with high hopes and he did really well until he developed a slight limp going from McGrath to Takotna. Allen hoped that the 24 hour layover and frequent rub down massages would cure his ailment but when leaving Takotna he started limping a bit again so Allen dropped him in Ophir just 22 miles later.

VIPER - It's really good to see Viper in the second team because he, like his brother Beemer, shined with the run/rest schedule planned for the youngsters in the team. He was in lead off and on throughout the race and did an excellent job.

RAMBLER - Another of the Car Litter (with Beemer and Viper) and he acted just like his siblings. They are all similarly talented and he also ran in lead quite often. He did great and he ate well which has been an issue for Rambler in the past.

LESTER - At the start of the race he was definitely a "middle of the team" dog. He's a dog you can forget about when racing because he doesn't do anything crazy like go off to the side and is not vocal - you never know he's there. When the "Car Litter siblings" were in lead and bobbing off to the left or right (we all know how much Viper loves to keep left) Allen ended up putting Lester in lead. He was the most steady of them all and nothing bothered him. He ran the last 400 miles over tricky parts of the trail in lead and finished in lead up Front Street in Nome. It was a big moment for him - watch the video (click here) - he looks so proud!

SCOOTER - She probably has the most potential of the whole dog team. She is definitely the fastest, most energetic and most vocal - she is more of a cheerleader than any other dog - but sometimes her speed and energy get her in trouble. She wasn't in top form in the weeks before the race (hence she wasn't picked for the Red Team) and being so energetic and loping so much she ended up injuring her shoulder. She made it 250 miles and would have kept going as she has such a big heart but Allen left her in Rohn for her own good.

OUTLAW - He was the biggest surprise! He was a pleasant surprise in that he hasn't finished a race since the Solstice 100 back in December yet his brother Clyde is very accomplished. Outlaw came through and ran his first 1000 mile race. He ate well, was steady and Allen could ask no more of him. He has a huge future and he's only two years old.

BORIS - He is one of our biggest dogs. He ran very very well which pleasantly surprised Allen. He hasn't run Boris too much in training so he hadn't seen him run that often. He was really steady however at some time from Nikolai to McGrath he overheated a little and became unwell and that was the end of the race for him. The vets out on the trail and back in Anchorage were awesome and he was back to being "Boris" shortly after.

MISMO - He was one of three Biscuit/Quito pups on Allen's team and he, along with siblings, is definitely the future of the kennel. He is two years old and finished his first 1000 mile race with flying colours. He was ready to run again just a day after arriving in Nome. It is a changing of the guard with his father Biscuit as he's getting a little older and his youngsters are moving into his place.

FELIX - He is definitely Biscuit all over again. A lot of times during training runs they ran side by side and we couldn't tell them apart. He resembles Biscuit in looks and acts more like him than any other dog which is great as Biscuit is one of the best dogs we've ever had.

IZZY - She is another Biscuit/Quito pup and Allen believes she is going to be a great leader. She led for the first time ever for a few miles during the race. She wasn't so confident to be up there so Allen put her in the swing position and she stayed there to learn to be a leader for the remaining 700 miles. A dog has to have a lot of drive to be in swing position and she has all that. She is definitely taking after her Momma.

BONITA - She is one of the "Mexicans" (Quito, Nacho, Chica and Bonita) and they are all exceptionally talented. Bonita has finished the Iditarod with Allen many times and she's rock steady. She didn't let Allen down at all.

Bonita and Tug

TUG - Tug-boat is one dog that Allen hasn't run much in training and has never run her in a race. Recently she hasn't finished a few races due to cramping but Allen was thrilled with how well she ran 1,000 miles. He had no concerns with her and she was spot on the whole race.

PUPPET - Puppet-dawg has been really good in recent past races but this year in the Quest she was feeling sub-par and never really pulled like Allen knows she can. However, that being said she had a huge turnaround on this year's Iditarod and she pulled harder than any dog, especially up hills. She even screamed going up the hills which scared Allen at first as he thought she had really hurt herself. She was just "in the moment" and Allen was really glad to see she was back to her normal, healthy and talented self.

Puppet and Tatfish

TATFISH - He has done everything a dog possibly can do at SP Kennel; he is eight and he and his brother Biscuit have run every single race we've done and he's finished most. However this year his age has finally started to get to him (as it does with people). He developed a slight wrist problem and Allen wrapped it at each checkpoint as a precaution but finally had to drop him 500 miles into the race. Allen was really sad to leave him behind.

FANG - If Allen could say one word about Fang it would be "steady". He was steady running, eating, resting and in attitude also. He's only four years old and he's finished three Iditarods so is a good dog. Good boy!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Percy Wrap Up

Running the Percy was such a great way to close the race season! The dogs and I had so much fun on 200 miles of Yukon River running. The weather was sunny and clear, so temps were warm during the day and chilly in the early morning hours. As with most of the races this season, the trail was hard and fast. We finished in a little over 20 hours. The Percy veterans were quick to remind me, however, that there have been years when the winning time was something like 74 hours. That sure puts into perspective how widely race conditions can vary year to year.

This was a totally different kind of race than I’ve run before, being almost entirely on the river. The Yukon has such long, sweeping bends that it feels like you can see forever. I could see other teams from so far away, both in front of and behind us. But the visual expanse plays tricks on your mind... is that team wayyyyyyy up there pulling away from us? Or are we gaining on them? Is that a team coming around the bend behind us? Or is that just a couple of rocks? You end up racing yourself, in a way. In the end, it seemed that the best strategy was just to keep a nice steady clip, keep everyone happy and healthy, and try not to worry too much about what other teams were doing.

I left the starting line with reliable SCRUGGS and confident CLYDE in lead. The Percy volunteers had thoughtfully constructed a snow trail down the center of King Street, but Scruggs and Clyde had more fun running right next to the sidewalk, sending spectators diving out of the way and nearly taking out a camera tripod. I was chuckling at their shenanigans as we dropped down onto the beautiful Yukon and left the crowd behind. Our run to Fortymile was gorgeous. A happy BEEMER and enthusiastic WILLIE (pictured right) ran in swing, followed by vocal VIPER in single behind them. The freight train, MAC (“Mac Daddy,” as we affectionately call him) ran alongside a hard-working OUTLAW, while happy-go-lucky IZZY and her papa, BISCUIT (pictured below left), who loves his job more than any sled dog anywhere, ever, brought up the rear. I ski-poled lightly and enjoyed watching the scenery pass by while the dogs stretched out.

Fortymile cabin was a perfect place to let the dogs lounge around in the sun and rest for a couple of hours. They drank water, nibbled on a meal and snacks, and snoozed while I enjoyed a fresh cinnamon bun and changed my runner plastic. Everyone was perky and wanting to go by the time our two hours were up. I moved a couple of dogs around and we took off toward Eagle.

We crossed from Canada into Alaska before dark, passing between the two countries’ flags that had been placed on the river. The flags were such a cool, and unexpected, touch of civilization to encounter on a long stretch of wilderness. Our run to Eagle was pretty smooth despite the several miles of glare ice that we encountered (and had been warned about). I’d stopped briefly before the border to remove the dogs’ front booties, in hopes that this would reduce the likelihood of anyone slipping and hurting a shoulder. Another unique aspect of the Percy is that there is no opportunity to drop a dog (other than temporarily, at Fortymile, where they would have to be picked up again on the return trip). Injuring a dog would mean having to carry them, so I wanted to be especially careful to avoid this.

We pulled into Eagle shortly after dark, and found friendly volunteers, good food, and a warm place for mushers to nap. I rubbed the dogs down while they munched on snacks, and they quickly settled in to maximize their rest. It was obvious that this team has been racing all season. They knew the drill and rested like the pros that they are. I went inside for a quick nap myself, laying down directly next to the wood stove, as is my habit.

Six hours later, SCRUGGS and VIPER led us out of Eagle and through the bush trail that leads back down to the river. It was windy and pretty cold on the river, so I stopped at the border again to put wind jackets on a few dogs. The team enjoyed the cooler weather, though, and that combined with a six-hour rest put a serious spring in their step all the way back to Fortymile.

As the dogs and I approached Fortymile on the return trip, all ten of us shifted into race mode. The dogs looked fantastic, I felt good, and there was a team stopped briefly at the checkpoint. We decided to blow through and start racing for the finish.

The last 50 miles of the race went by quickly, even though the day was starting to heat up as the sun rose higher. I ski-poled consistently, all ten of us spurred on by the tiny glimpses we caught of the team ahead of us (or was that a distant rock we were chasing?). I don’t know if the tracker picked up on it, but we did take a brief detour about 15 minutes before reaching the finish. Following a set of trail markers (left over from the Quest, and not intended for our race, as it turns out), I called “haw” to SCRUGGS (pictured right) and VIPER. They hesitated for only a split second, giving me that, “Are you sure?!” look, but they obliged because they’re good, honest dogs. Uphill and away from the river we went, running through Moosehide Village and losing probably 10 minutes before dropping back down onto the river, where we should have stayed all along. I laughed at myself and apologized to the team, who had already returned to the main objective of getting to the finish line as quickly as possible. We crossed the finish line in 5th place (luckily, not having lost a position despite my detour) with Josh waiting to lead us back to the truck for a meal and some shade. Later, as I pulled booties and harnesses off, I thought about how these dogs had just come off a grueling Iditarod with Aliy and Allen. Now they’d just taken me on what turned out to be a 200-mile sprint. And I couldn’t help thinking... there is nothing these dogs can’t do.

- Meghan

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Valley Funale (Video)

Video from the Two Rivers Valley Funale.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Iditarod 2014: "Aliy Cam" No Snow

There was enough snow to manage an Iditarod dog team through the Willow area, along the Susitna River and up into the Alaska Range Mountains during the race. However, north and west of Rainy Pass, the snow disappeared. The Iditarod Trail Crew had shown photos and videos of the trail -- with snow -- during the Pre Race Mushers Meeting. What I didn't realize is that the two days of rain and very warm temperatures that we had in Anchorage during and just before the race start also brought rain and a complete melt off to much of the trail between Rainy Pass and Nikolai. I guess that I was somewhat naive to be so surprised by the horrible and dangerous trail conditions.

I was warned by the Rainy Pass race judge that trail conditions coming into the Rohn Checkpoint might be bad. He told me that Kelly Maxiner, the first musher to reach Rohn (six hours before I arrived), had broken his sled. I didn't take that information too seriously. I thought, "People break sleds all the time."

I managed to get through the Dalzell Gorge and to the Rohn Checkpoint in one piece. That was no small feat. Therefore, I stuck to my plan and continued down the trail to camp farther along. Martin Buser was the only team to leave the Rohn Checkpoint ahead of me. Therefore, there was no "real" information about snow conditions further up the trail. I asked the folks in Rohn if they knew anything and someone said that they heard that the snow improved after Egypt Mountain or about 20 miles. I really watched for Egypt Mountain as I hung on for dear life. After we passed it… the snow conditions did not improve.

This video shows very little of the truly challenging sections of the trail. I do not use an attached "Go Pro" camera to film my videos. I have always used a hand held camcorder (personal preference, I guess.) So, I obviously, could not film and mush in these conditions simultaneously. I do recommend Jeff's helmet cam video that was published on ADN during the race. I believe his video footage is from before the Rohn Checkpoint. It is a wild ride and something I could not capture on my race without a major casualty.

Mushing an Iditarod dog team from the top of Rainy Pass to Nikoali this year was breathtaking - and not in the traditional "Oh this is so pretty" kind of way. I clung so tightly to my sled's handle bar that my arms cramped. I was so happy to be physically fit because the trail was ridiculous. But, to be honest, looking back, I think that my dog mushing skills and physical fitness was only a small part of my success. I also very much believe that my good luck can not be overstated.